The legality of boxing: a punch drunk love?
On 11 September, Davey Brown Jr, fought Carlo Magali from the Philippines in a 12-round International Boxing Federation (IBF) super featherweight contest in Australia. Brown, the local fighter, was knocked out 30 seconds from the end of the final round. The 28-year-old father of two collapsed on his stool and was taken to hospital on suspicion of critical brain trauma. Four days later his family consented to his life support being turned off in a Sydney hospital.1
Six months previously, another Australian, Braydon Smith, died after losing a fight in his home tome of Toowoomba, Queensland. Smith had collapsed 90 minutes after his bout and died two days later.2
The day after Davey Brown’s death, South African fighter Mzwanele Kompolo collapsed and died on being knocked out in the first round of a bout in the Eastern Cape.3
These fatalities raise medical, moral, ethical and legal concerns about the sport of boxing.
In legal terms, the English courts have long recognised that in contact sports not every foul, even one occasioning serious injury, is necessarily a crime because injury and hurt is, to a certain level, consensual and, moreover, is usually incidental and accidental to the playing of the game in question.
Boxing stretches this legal tolerance to its limit.
Boxing is similarly on the extreme when it comes to the concussion “crisis” currently afflicting rugby4 and American football.5 World Rugby and the NFL have had to deal with accusations that the frequency of injury is such that concussion is fast becoming an “occupational hazard” for its players. It has always been thus for boxers.
In short, the most efficient way of winning a professional bout is by way of knockout. A knockout is a temporary stunning of the body’s most sensitive organ. Put another way (admittedly somewhat provocatively) a central aspect of the scoring system in professional boxing is that it rewards the deliberate infliction of brain damage.
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- Tags: Australia | Boxing | British Medical Association | Concussion | Governance | International Boxing Federation (IBF) | Martial Arts | National Football League (NFL) | Regulation | South Africa | UFC | United Kingdom (UK) | World Anti-Doping Code (WADC) | World Boxing Association (WBA) | World Boxing Council (WBC) | World Boxing Federation (WBF) | World Rugby
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Jack Anderson is Special Counsel (Integrity Regulation) at Racing Victoria. Formerly Professor and Director of Sports Law Studies at the University of Melbourne, he has published extensively on sports law, most recently with D Thorpe, A Buti, P Jonson & J Anderson, Sports Law (4th ed, OUP, 2022).
He is a member of World Athletics’ Disciplinary Tribunal, the integrity unit of the International Hockey Federation, and the International Tennis Federation’s Ethics Commission. Jack is an arbitrator on Football Australia’s National Dispute Resolution Chamber, the National Sports Tribunal of Australia and Sport Resolutions UK.